With tens of millions in legal fees, contract bailouts, settlements and more adding up for the state, it’s time for Idaho to create an office of Inspector General to receive and investigate complaints of waste, fraud, abuse and malfeasance in state government, House Minority Leader John Rusche told lawmakers today. But members of the House State Affairs Committee were deeply suspicious of Rusche’s proposal, which would set up the office under the governor, with consent of the Senate; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Rusche, D-Lewiston, said he worked with the governor’s office, the Attorney General’s office, the Legislative Services Office and the Legislature’s Office of Performance Evaluations to craft the bill; the new office would cost the state $350,000 a year. He said that cost would be far offset by “the chance to prevent tens of millions in financial loss, and to improve the state’s reputation for transparency and quality government. Just imagine,” he said, “what if the prison guards had been able to raise a concern to the Inspector General? … What if Syringa had complained to the Inspector General and not been forced to go to court to get a second look at the Department of Administration contract process?”
Those were references to the state’s costly losses in its contract with Corrections Corp. of America to run the state’s largest prison, only to take the prison back over after the firm was accused of over-billing the state for non-existent prison staffers; and the lawsuit from Syringa Networks that invalidated the state’s $60 million for the Idaho Education Network, which has cost the state tens of millions in federal funds that were supposed to pay for high school broadband services across the state.
“This bill is not aimed at anyone or stimulated by any one event,” Rusche said, “but it is a better way.”
Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, said, “We already have 105 inspector generals in this building,” referring to the 105 state legislators. “I don’t think we need to add more to it. We’re talking about spending $350,000 a year. From what I’ve seen from government agencies, that would just be a beginning. They seem to grow out of control in no time at all. I don’t see where this is going to do anything. I agree there is problems. People do things they aren’t supposed to do. … This is just something to chase after them afterwards. I think we have plenty of people in place to do that.”
He added, “I know that I get phone calls constantly. … I think that we’re elected to do that job and we’re already put here for that.”
Palmer moved to reject Rusche’s bill, not even allowing a hearing on it. His motion was just barely defeated on a 9-8 vote. The committee then voted to introduce the bill and allow a hearing; six committee members asked to be recorded as voting no, Reps. Sims, Cheatham, Batt, Andrus, Palmer and McMillan.